If you and your spouse agree on the terms of the divorce and filed the Joint Petition for Summary Dissolution of a Marriage, then you will probably need to attend a court hearing so that the judge may issue the final divorce decree. If you have minor children but still have an uncontested divorce you may file a Joint Petition for Dissolution of a Marriage, after which the judge may schedule a short hearing to discuss details of child custody before issuing the final decree.
In all of the states we practice in, both equitable distribution states and community property states, the parties are encouraged to actively participate in, and come to agreement on, the fair division of their marital assets and liabilities. But unless you and your spouse are experts in the financial matters pertaining to divorce, this can be a dangerous path to walk.
Financial Early Neutral Evaluations (FENE) allow the parties to meet with an accountant or lawyer neutral expert to assist the parties in preparing a balance sheet and help to negotiate a division of property. These experts can also assist in preparing cash flow summaries to help the parties settle issues of child support and spousal maintenance. As with social early neutral evaluations, the neutral may advise the parties what they believe will occur if the matter is fully litigated. As with Social ENEs, many counties provide rosters of lawyers and accountants certified to assist with FENE's in that county.
Sometimes the respondent cannot be “served” personally with the Summons and Petition because the petitioner does not know where he or she is and has no way to find out. In this case the petitioner can apply to the court for permission to “serve” another way—such as mailing the papers to an address where mail will likely be forwarded to the respondent or publishing a notice in a newspaper. This special service starts the legal proceedings in cases where the respondent cannot be personally served.
The complexity of the issues and ability of the individuals to be flexible as they negotiate a fair agreement determines the length of the mediation. Every case is different, but the average case usually takes at least three to four two-hour mediation sessions, spread out over at least a month or two. More complex cases can take four to six months to complete.
If you do move out, take steps to guard against destruction of property. Videotape the contents of the home (e.g., furniture, art and other valuables) and make copies of important documents (birth certificates, account statements, deeds and insurance policies) before you leave. You may also consider taking your own family heirlooms and other personal, irreplaceable items with you.
As the number of divorces has increased, divorcing couples have frequently become frustrated with the excessive costs and delays associated with an overburdened, adversarial litigation system, and have sought ways to play a greater role in determining the details of their divorces. Likewise, the court system has recognized the importance of developing methods of handling disputes outside of the courtroom, and so court-related mediation programs have increased in popularity around the country.
In some cases, the court may order spousal maintenance for a limited time while the spouse returns to school or trains for employment. Permanent spousal maintenance may be awarded if the court finds that one of you will not be able to adequately support yourself. The court will consider age, health, education, work experience, skills and other factors.
If you are concerned about ongoing earnings continuing to be marital in nature, then it is in your interest to lock in the default valuation date by filing the case as soon as possible and shepherding it along swiftly. For example, if you earn six figures, but your spouse is a stay-at-home unemployed parent, it is to your advantage to file the divorce first, and then work on settlement, rather than to mediate and negotiate for several months prior to filing.
The number of times you go to court and see a Judge or Referee depends on local court procedures and whether you and your spouse can agree on issues regarding your children, property and other matters. If you do NOT agree, the case usually takes longer to finish. It is a good idea to get legal advice before finalizing an agreement with your spouse.